16 Famous Shipwrecks From Around the World
The ocean can be a violent and scary place for a ship. As history proves, ships don’t always reach their final destination. Many famous ships sunk to the bottom of the sea and remain there to this day, meeting their tragic end in the unforgiving ocean. Wreckages from centuries ago sit at the bottom of the sea as a reminder of these harrowing tales. Lots of these real-life ships had fascinating backstories even before their final voyage, with some vessels that belonged to mythical pirates and famous explorers now renowned tourist attractions.
During both World Wars, several famous ships sank in epic battles resulting in significant loss of life. While some vessels were around for years before disaster struck, many met their fatal end on the ship’s maiden voyage. Some of the ships that sank are also world-famous and inspired critically acclaimed movies. Let’s journey into the ocean and dive deep into these famous shipwrecks.
16 Famous Shipwrecks From Around the World
1. SS Edmund Fitzgerald (November 10, 1975)
On November 10, 1975, the famed freighter, SS Edmund Fitzgerald, was on its way from Duluth, Minnesota, to a mill in Detroit when a violent storm hit. With a cargo of ore pellets, the ship was caught in a storm in Canadian waters in Lake Superior. With 29 men onboard, it sank soon after 7:10 pm as a severe storm tore the ship into two pieces near Ontario and Michigan.
First launched in 1958, the giant boat carried iron ore on the same route for 17 years. It made a name for itself as the largest ship on the Great Lakes. Captain Peter Pulcer had a reputation for playing music between St. Clair and Detroit, garnering the nickname “Captain DJ.” The famous disaster inspired the Gordon Lightfoot song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
2. USS Arizona (December 7, 1941)
The USS Arizona was a United States Navy Battleship setting sail in 1916. While it stayed out of World War I, it escorted President Woodrow Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference in 1920 and appeared in the James Cagney film Here Comes The Navy in 1934. After being inactive for several years, the U.S. Navy moved the ship to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as an obstacle to the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1940.
Almost two years later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. A series of explosives destroyed the ship and it sank into the ocean, killing 1,177 crew members. The wreckage sits at the bottom of Pearl Harbor to this day. The USS Arizona Memorial marks the site of the wreck.
3. RMS Titanic (April 15, 1912)
With critically acclaimed movies and documentaries on the subject, the sinking of the RMS Titanic is one of the most famous shipwrecks. Also known as the unsinkable ship, it was an architectural marvel with a swimming pool, restaurants, and gymnasium for first class passengers. The ill-fated maiden voyage from England to New York set sail in April 1912, carrying the wealthiest passengers from around the world and emigrants from Europe.
At the time, the Olympic-class ocean liner was the largest ship of its kind. After striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean, the famed ship split in two and slowly sank to the bottom of the sea. Famously unequipped with lifeboats, 1,500 of the 2,224 passengers died in the cold ocean sea. In 1997, James Cameron released the iconic film Titanic to rave reviews.
4. Queen Anne’s Revenge (June 10, 1718)
In the 1700s, the famed 18th-century ship Queen Anne’s Revenge was the flagship of the feared English pirate Blackbeard. The ship’s origins date back to 1710 in Bristol, England. At the time, known as Concord, French privateers captured the merchant ship not long after it hit the water. It also served as a slave ship at various times.
Also known as Edward Teach, Blackbeard captured the newly renamed La Concorde near St. Vincent Island in 1717. He promptly renamed it Queen Anne’s Revenge, using it for a year as he captured other ships and treasures. On June 10, 1718, Blackbeard grounded the vessel on the Beaufort Inlet in North Carolina. Blackbeard quickly transferred supplies to a smaller ship and abandoned his crew on a nearby island before his capture.
5. USS Indianapolis (July 30, 1945)
The tragic tale of the USS Indianapolis resulted in the most significant loss of life in U.S. Navy history. First launched in 1931, it was a dominant cruiser that won many battles in the Central Pacific during World War II. In what turned out to be its final mission, in July 1945, the Indianapolis delivered uranium to Tinian Naval Base for the Little Boy nuclear bomb. On its return, a Japanese Imperial Navy submarine spotted the ship and struck it with a torpedo.
With 1,959 crew members onboard, 300 went down with the ship. The remaining crew members floated adrift in lifeboats for roughly four days before the U.S. Navy learned of its sinking. During those days, crew members died from saltwater poisoning, exposure, and dehydration.
Furthermore, the explosion and blood attracted a large number of oceanic whitetip sharks and tiger sharks. One hundred fifty crew members died due to shark attacks. When rescue finally arrived, only 315 crew members were alive.
6. Fujikawa Maru (February 17, 1944)
Fujikawa Maru was a vital Imperial Japanese Navy cargo ship during World War II. The ship participated in several famous battles, notably the Battle of Midway. However, she soon became a target of the United States Navy. In 1943, the U.S. submarine Permit struck it with a torpedo, forcing the ship back to Japan.
A few months later, torpedo bombers from USS Yorktown inflicted further damage, causing the vessel to move to Chuuk Lagoon for additional repairs. On February 17, 1944, U.S. bombers put the final nail in the coffin with Operation Hailstone. After a barrage of torpedo bombers, Fujikawa Maru sank into the water. The wreckage site is now one of the top scuba diving spots in the world.
7. Santa Maria (December 25, 1492)
In 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail to the west to discover a passage to Asia. With three impressive ships, Sana Maria was the flagship of the voyage. The historical journey wasn’t all smooth sailing to the New World. After surviving a mutiny, the ship crashed off the shores of Haiti on Christmas Day.
The crew used parts of the ship to construct Fort Navidad, or the Christmas Fort, in the village of Taino. It was the first European settlement in the New World. The true nature of the shipwreck remains a mystery due to different versions of events being recorded.
8. Endurance (November 21, 1915)
The tale of the Endurance begins in 1912 in Norway. Originally known as Polaris, Lars Christensen had to sell the ship before it even set sail when his partner pulled out of the deal. Explorer Ernest Shackleton purchased the vessel in 1914 intent on sailing to the Antarctic. This was the ship’s maiden voyage and also its final one.
On November 21, 1915, the ship became trapped in packed ice and sank in the Weddell Sea in the Antarctic. All crew members managed to escape the vessel before it fell. Eventually, Shackleton and a small crew made a voyage on the ship’s boat to find a rescue for the rest of the crew in 1916. The Endurance wreckage remains perfectly preserved at the bottom of the Weddell Sea.
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9. Mediterranean Sky (November 26, 2002)
First launched in 1953, the passenger liner, MS City of York, operated from London to South Africa. The ship took 15 days to complete the incredible route. Sold in 1971 and renamed Mediterranean Sky, it became a famous ferry that continued to sail until 1996.
Abandoned in Greece, it capsized in shallow waters in January 2003. Half of the hull remained visible up until 2021. The Mediterranean Sky now sits at the bottom of the ocean and is a popular tourist attraction.
10. SS Thistlegorm (October 6, 1941)
The SS Thistlegorm was a vital cargo ship during World War II. First hitting the waters in the 1940s, it went on several essential missions around the globe. After undergoing repairs in Scotland, it set sail on its final voyage to Egypt in June 1941. The cargo included locomotives for the Egyptian National Railways and supplies for the Allied Forces in Egypt, including motorcycles, rifles, radio equipment, and ammunition.
On October 6, 1941, German forces dropped explosives on the ship while it docked in the Red Sea near South Africa, sinking the Thistlegorm. In the early 1950s, Jacques Cousteau discovered the famous wreckage. National Geographic pictures of the shipwreck helped bring renewed interest to the area. In the 1990s, the surrounding area became a diving resort, which led to the wreckage becoming one of the world’s top diving sites.
11. MV Doña Paz (December 20, 1987)
The Philippine passenger ferry MV Doña Paz was launched in 1963 as Himeyuri Maru. It went through name changes until settling on Doña Paz in 1979. Its fatal voyage occurred on December 20, 1987, when the Doña Paz slammed into an oil tanker, Vector, near Manila. Despite having a capacity of 608, Doña Paz carried 2,000 passengers. Rumors suggest it didn’t have a radio or adequate life jackets.
Furthermore, Vector was operating without a license or lookout. The deadly accident resulted in the loss of 4,385 lives with 26 survivors. Both wrecks remain in good condition at the bottom of the ocean.
12. MS World Discover (April 30, 2000)
Constructed in the early 1970s, MS World Discover discovered the world. In 1976, Adventures Inc purchased the ship, making it the center of Society Expeditions. The famed ship went all over the globe, including Antarctica, the Falkland Islands, Chile, and Argentina. The route even covered the South Pacific Islands, the Alaskan area, and the Russian border.
On April 30, 2000, the ship crashed into an uncharted reef in the Solomon Islands. After a distress signal went out, a passenger ferry rescued all crew members. The captain grounded the famed MS World Discover in Roderick Bay, where it remains to this day. It has since become one of the top tourist attractions in the Solomon Islands.
13. Eduard Bohlen (September 5, 1990)
First launched in 1890, the German-built Eduard Bohlen was a cargo and passenger ship. The massive ship went on its final voyage in 1909 from Swakopmund to Table Bay. On September 5, 1909, Eduard Bohlen ran into a thick fog, causing it to run aground at Conception Bay in present-day Namibia. The wreckage lies on the Skeleton Coast, along with several other shipwrecked vessels.
14. SS Maheno (July 7, 1935)
The SS Maheno has gone on many adventures since it first launched in 1905. Initially, it was an ocean liner operating between New Zealand and Australia on the Tasman sea. During World War I, the Maheno became a hospital ship with operating theatres, five doctors, thirteen nurses, and 61 orderlies. But by the mid-1930s, its commercial and war days were behind it.
On July 7, 1935, it got caught in a cyclone while being towed to Japan. It drifted ashore to Fraser Island in Australia with a small crew but without propellers. The crew waited a few days before a rescue team arrived on the island. The slowly deteriorating ship remains on Fraser Island and is a significant tourist attraction.
15. USS Kittiwake (September 30, 1994)
Hitting the water in 1945, the USS Kittiwake was a ship that offered support and rescue to various submarines. It traveled all over the globe, including the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Florida. It suffered damage from a crash in 1984 and a run-in with Greenpeace in 1989.
After its decommission in 1994, the Cayman Islands government purchased the wreckage for an undisclosed amount. In 2011, the government sunk the wreck off Seven Mile Beach in Marine Park to create an artificial reef.
16. MV Wilhelm Gustoff (Janurary 30, 1945)
First launched in 1935, the MV Wilhelm Gustoff was a cruise ship that played a vital role in the German military in World War I and II. It participated in many violent battles at sea during the First World War. On January 30, 1945, a Soviet submarine spotted Wilhelm Gustloff as it evacuated civilians from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and East Prussia.
The Russian submarine S-13 snuck up and struck the German ship with a barrage of torpedoes. Several passengers jumped into the ice-cold Baltic Sea to try and escape. Despite several notable ships being destroyed throughout both wars, the sinking of the MV Wilhelm Gustloff resulted in the most extensive loss of life in a single ship, with an estimated 9,400 dead.
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